“Why would anyone ever want to leave their comfort zone? That’s the best place to be.”
A former coworker said that to me after I placed Neale Donald Walsch‘s quote on my desk: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
For many years beforehand, I held the same belief as her. I was (and still am) a very methodical person. I like complete control over my schedule. I hate surprises. In fact, since the age of thirteen, I had “The Plan”:
- I would go to college.
- Get a good job.
- Buy a house.
- Get married.
- Have a couple of kids.
- And live happily ever after.
Deviation from “The Plan” would have catastrophic consequences.
In 2008, after a couple of bumps, I was well on my way to Full Plan Execution. I had graduated from college. I had a good job with the government. I had a wonderful boyfriend that I planned to marry. I still lived at home with my parents so I should have been saving ample amounts of money to put towards a down payment on a house.
But I was restless. Part of my unease stemmed from settling in a field I hated. Yet when I look back, I realize it was something more than that. I woke up at 5:30 a.m. every weekday. I caught the van pool. I sat at a desk for nine and a half hours. I sent e-mails. I typed specifications. I came home. I hung out with my boyfriend. Once in a while, I took vacations. I had fun but then returned to the humdrum. After a year of this monotony, I had a vision of my life at twenty-five, at thirty, at sixty. I would still work at the same job only I would have wrinkles and pictures of toothless grandchildren thumb-tacked to my cubicle wall. Although I was financially comfortable, I felt stifled. I realized that if I continued, I would eventually become depressed.
How does someone so accustomed to sameness make that leap out of their comfort zone? And if you don’t know what’s going to happen, is it worth it?
Let’s start with the first question. You start small. For me, it started with a fiction course. Then I took screenwriting, acting, improv, and French courses. All the money that should have went towards a house, towards The Plan, went to me trying new things. Each class gave me anxiety (“I don’t know any of these people!” “What if they don”t like me?” “What if they hate my work?”). Each time, I forced myself through my worries. So each time, I grew a little as a person. These classes, these baby steps led me to realize what I wanted to do with my life: write. Eventually, I placed that Walsch quote on my desk.
Take a Chance
The second question is a bit more complicated and I am going to use the classical example of love to answer it. Around the time I graduated from college, I had been dating this guy for almost three years. I knew his favorite dish, his goals, and his family. Our relationship involved screaming, broken dishes, sniffles, and hugs. He wanted to marry me. I contemplated marrying him because I knew what to expect. There would be no surprises. But I had the gut feeling that 1) I was falling for someone else and 2) if I married him, I would hate my life. We ended our relationship and I started dating another guy. I had no clue how it would end up but I knew I had to try something different, to take a chance, to break the monotony. That was six years ago and that “someone else” and I are still together today. Was it worth it? DEFINITELY.
It is changes, both big and small that can affect your life in the most amazing ways. Four months ago, I had to make a decision: attend Rutgers Newark or attend Florida State University for an MFA program. If I attended Rutgers Newark, it meant staying in New Jersey. It meant staying at my job. It meant staying with coworkers I had known for years (many of whom I attended college with). It meant staying in my parent’s house and not worrying about rent. It meant not leaving my boyfriend. It meant guaranteed financial stability while pursuing a field I loved. However, my altered mindset, the woman that ended a comfortable relationship, the woman that took classes, and the woman that put that Walsch quote on her desk would not allow me to stay. She convinced me that in order for me to fully grow, I needed to leave everything I had become so familiar with behind.
Leave Your Comfort Zone
I do not know where my life will go once I finish the MFA. Perhaps I will drag my boyfriend to France and teach for a year. Perhaps I will become a professor. Perhaps the book I will finish in school will become a bestseller and I can finally make a living as a writer. I do not know what the future holds for me. But by leaving my comfort zone, by leaving The Plan behind I am finally living the life I was meant to live. And I am ecstatic.